Hezbollah mediated release of Lebanese 'spy' held in Iran

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Zakka is set to return to Beirut on Tuesday, alongside Lebanon's General Security chief Abbas Ibrahim, who accompanied the ex-prisoner on a government jet.

Iran freed a US resident who had been held since 2015 on spying charges Tuesday following Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's Sunday statement that Iran must behave like a "normal nation" for the U.S.to come to the negotiating table. Then he was arrested and sentenced to 10 years in prison in a closed-door trial.

A Lebanese man who spent almost four years in an Iranian prison on spying charges will be released, the government in Tehran announced Tuesday.

Nizar Zakka, 52, who had been living in Washington, DC, was detained in Tehran in September 2015 after being invited by the Iranian government to attend a conference.

Zakka, an information technology specialist who also has USA residency, had been detained on charges of anti-state activity.

Lebanon's President Michel Aoun had lobbied for Iran to grant him an amnesty, and officials in Tehran said his release was partly due to the country's close ties with Lebanon's Hezbollah movement.

Zakka told reporters at the presidential palace Tuesday that the initiative to release him is a local one, made in Lebanon.

Zakka's family and human rights groups have dismissed the allegations as baseless.

His release comes as tensions between Washington and Tehran remain high after President Trump withdrew the USA from Iran's nuclear deal with world powers.

"We're thankful for the release of the individual in Iran", press secretary Sarah Sanders said.

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"Nizar Zakka, like many other dual or foreign nationals held in Iran, is a political pawn", Ms Dagres said.

After a short meeting with Lebanese President Michel Aoun, Mr Zakka told the state-run National News Agency that there were no grounds to Iranian accusations of his being a U.S. spy.

Zakka's release comes amid heightened tensions between Iran and the USA after America's withdrawal from Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers.

"Mr. president, my family and I owe you for the rest of my life for what you did in order for me to win my freedom", Zakka said after the meeting.

The state TV, like Fars, both quoted an anonymous source saying Zakka's forthcoming release should only be seen as a "sign of respect" for Hizbullah and its leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah.

Iran exerts considerable influence on Lebanese politics through Hezbollah, the only militia that was allowed to keep its weapons after the end of the civil war in 1990.

Zakka, who lives in Washington and holds resident status in the USA, leads the Arab ICT Organization, or IJMA3, an industry consortium from 13 countries that advocates for information technology in the region.

Zakka has been imprisoned in Iran on spying charges since 2015.

"Suddenly, news emerges that he's being released to Lebanese government officials", Ms Dagres said.

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